Whether you’re a fan of avant-garde art, slapstick comedy or flesh-eating zombies, visits to three museums in Pennsylvania can help you establish your pop culture cred.
At the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, for example, you can check out the artist’s Campbell’s Soup Can series which launched his career as a pop artist, see his vividly colored silkscreened portraits of famous celebrities, or spend some time inside an interactive exhibit watching as ‘silver clouds’—balloons filled with a proprietary mix of air and helium—dance around the room.
Warhol explained his work as, "Pop art is about liking things," and there’s a lot to like about this museum, which intrigues, and sometimes assaults, the senses. From the museum’s entryway, which is surrounded by pink silkscreened cows on the walls, to huge, neon-colored silkscreened prints of everyone from Chairman Mao to Elvis to Jackie O, visitors can immerse themselves in the mind of a creative genius. The interactive elements are truly unique—there’s nothing quite like reliving the Exploding Plastic Inevitable experience in a room where strobe-like photos, 1960s screen tests and dissonant music by the Velvet Underground practically scrambles the brain; or sitting under hot lights while a camera films your ‘screen test,’ which becomes a study in self-awareness and introspection.
The museum traces Warhol’s life from his birth in Pittsburgh to his career as one of the most successful commercial illustrators in the country in the 1950s, to his huge fame as an artist, filmmaker, television personality and creative mind behind The Factory, and later The Office, before his death in 1987. I never realized that he had two television shows, or that, even though he’d "retired" from painting in 1965, he created more paintings between 1972-1987 than at any other point in his life. While I was somewhat of a fan before visiting the museum, I left a convert, and suggest this museum to anyone who wants to learn about a man who truly deserved more than his 15 minutes of fame.
Another must-stop on the pop culture tour is The Living Dead Museum in Evans City, located about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh. This museum pays tribute to all things zombie, including Night of the Living Dead, which was filmed in the area, and traces the progression of the undead from their very first foray into the movies all the way up to today’s TV smash hit, The Walking Dead.
Owner Kevin Kriess, who grew up in Evans City, admits that though he was too young and scared to watch the Night of the Living Dead when it first came out, the movie later made a huge impact on him, and on pop culture. To this end, the museum is filled with movie scripts, photos and stills, mannequins of some of the more famous zombie-types—think Michael Jackson’s Thriller—and a wall of bloody handprints signed by Night of the Living Dead’s stars and director George Romero.
You can even visit the cemetery where the movie was featured—it’s just a couple of minutes up the road. The chapel which is in the opening scene of the 1968 cult classic, still stands—in fact, it was scheduled to be torn down two years ago, but fans undertook a grassroots effort to restore it. Just please be respectful; it is still an active cemetery, despite making movie history.
And if you’re a fan of the Three Stooges, a drive east to Ambler, PA, close to Valley Forge, will find you at The Stoogeum, the world’s first and largest museum dedicated to Moe, Curly, Larry, and Shemp. More than 100,000 Stooge-related items, including posters, lobby cards, rare photos and props are on display in this one-of-a-kind tribute to America’s favorite nyuk-leheads.
Established in 2004, this museum was created by Gary Lassin, who is married to Stooge Larry Fine’s grand-niece. Though it is open only one day a week (Thursday), it’s well worth it to schedule a trip to this three-floor, 10,000 square foot tribute to all things Stooge, from games and hand puppets, to beer cans and Halloween costumes, to comic strips, rare films and more. The museum also includes an 85-seat theater, where you can watch the Stooges in action; the crew made more than 190 short films and a number of feature films before their last appearance in 1970.The top floor is dedicated to an art gallery of fan and professional art, and includes work by Mad Magazine’s Mort Drucker and the New York Times’ caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, among others.
"Forever is a long time, but with a little luck, we just might make it," Moe Howard is quoted as saying in a display. At the Stoogeum, the boys will live on forever.
Do you have a favorite pop culture place?
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